Creating a beautiful Christmas garland for a staircase depends more on having access to a plentiful supply of foliage, than it does upon creative abilities. Before you contemplate making your own garland, have a walk around the garden and note what greenery is available. You will need enough evergreens to generously cover at least double the length of the space to be covered.
You will need to cut pieces of conifer about 30 – 40cm long, depending on the size and scale of your project. The easiest way to ensure that you have enough branches to cut, is to build it into your annual pruning routine, so that an area is left unpruned earlier in the year, ready for this December cutting.
The conifer will form the base layer of your garland, and you can add as many other layers as you like, to this. I usually add Holly and two or three different ivys, using variegated foliage as well, to lend extra colour and interest. What else you include in your garland is a matter of personal choice, and your trip around the garden will give you lots of ideas about other evergreens you would like to use. Over the years I have tried using euonymous, laurel, aucuba, Clematis armandii and Viburnum Tinus, amongst others. Although larger leaves look great initially, they do not last like the conifer and Holly, and may need renewing at some point. The best thing to do is just to experiment and find what works for you.
Begin your garland by cutting and fixing a long piece of wire firmly in place, down your staircase, which will form the backbone of the whole structure. As we have a spindled staircase, I can secure the main wire several times with smaller wire ties, too.
Work can now begin, building up the layers of the garland, ensuring that use of greenery is generous. The branches of conifer can be fixed to the main wire horizontally if it is in short supply, but it looks much better if positioned vertically, as this makes for a fuller, more luxurious effect. I use fine horticultural wire to fix the foliage in position, twisting the wire around the stems for added stability.
Once the base layer of conifer clippings is complete, you can start the next layer, and this, like everything else, is a matter of personal preference. I use Holly for the second layer, and position the stems horizontally on top of the conifer, close to the main wire. The Holly will need to be wired into place too. A little tip is to cut long pieces of wire to make the initial fixings of the conifer clippings, and these can be used again for later layers of greenery, saving time, and making the whole process much easier.
I like to add a third layer of Ivy (which can disguise a multitude of sins!), which can be used horizontally, vertically, or a mix of both.
Keep adding greenery until your garland is lush and dense, and keep standing back to look at the overall effect, so that you can fill bare patches. You can then add the finishing touches – I usually add a string of small white lights, but over the years have tried all sorts of things, including tinsel, bows, ribbons and silken rope.
A home made garland is a traditional way of bringing greenery into the house to enjoy, and will give your home a truly festive feel at virtually no cost.
Have a very happy, home-made Christmas!
Over the past few weeks I have been tidying the garden, putting the containers away upside down so they don`t fill with water. Also have been putting away ornaments which were in the garden so they don`t get spoilt with the salt spray/wind that gets carried here in Bournemouth from the sea front. Sprayed them with a well known oil spray to stop them going rusty and wrapped them in fleece, putting three of them together in a black bag. Covered some of the more tender plants with fleece and waiting for my fleece bags to arrive – with thanks to Geoff Stonebanks letting me know where I could buy them.
Unnamed trailing antirrhinum trialled & Begonia ‘Apricot Shades’
I have also finished planting up some tulip bulbs, unfortunately they were being dug up as fast as I planted them. Whilst talking to friends at our coffee club who said she had a large holly bush if I would like some. I put quite a few sprigs into each container and so far this has stopped my bulbs being dug up – we shall see how long this lasts!
My patio Begonia ‘Apricot Shades’ which were planted on the edge of a narrow border have just finished flowering. I have had them growing with Senecio cineraria ‘Silver Dust’ which really filled the small border right up to the middle of November. I have cleaned off all the begonia corms that were dried off and put them away in newspaper and then wrapped in brown paper until around February when I hope to get them started for Summer 2017.
Rose ‘Golden Wedding’ & unnamed fuchsia trialled
My smaller acer trees have looked wonderful this autumn, the colours seem to change day by day, also the Rose ‘Golden Wedding’ was still managing to flower up until middle of November with slightly smaller flowers. The Fuchsia FUCHSIABERRY has lost all its leaves and almost all the fruit but there are a few fuchsia flowers still appearing. The trial of the un-named white trailing bidens is still flowering even though I have cut it back, from the same trial an un-named peachy pink antirrhinum was still flowering and as there was a frost forecast I decided to gently take it out of the basket and pot it up for the kitchen window sill, where it is continuing to thrive and grow – fingers crossed!!
We have just had the first storm of the season – Storm Angus! Trees down, roads blocked, underpasses flooded and the poor garden knocked about. That really was the end of the leaves on my acers, such a shame, now they just look like twigs. At the top of the garden I found the top part of one of my containers (which is usually fixed on its own stand) just sitting on the ground and couldn`t find the stand anywhere. Eventually found it under a fuchsia bush at the bottom of the garden, at least it didn`t tip the plants out that were still flowering. I was thrilled to bits that both my Calla Lilies (as mentioned in my previous Blog) are still flowering – end of November. I also have two cactus indoors which are flowering profusely and have been for almost a month now.
Indoor cactus plants
As we approach the end of November and in my case there is less to do in the garden, everything is turning towards the Big Man in his Sleigh and with over 30 members of our family ranging from a four year old great granddaughter to Alan who is 79 we have to start early with presents etc. and cards, I usually make all my own cards.
Here`s hoping that you all have an enjoyable and peaceful Christmas with lots of `garden` presents and a great gardening year for 2017.
…..Happy Christmas Everyone…..
Growing roses from seeds is not the fastest method for propagating roses but has several advantages. Roses from seeds take a little longer but then you end up developing a new set of varieties. Professional hybridisers select a new line of easy to grow and disease resistant rose to propagate. However, for you, each seedling will be a surprise when they finally bloom. It is like opening your birthday present when you were a kid. You never really knew what to expect! That is the same feeling seeing those little seedlings opens up for the first time.
There are several processes one must follow when growing roses from seeds. For professionals, the process starts in the garden where they monitor the flowering and pollination process as they choose favorite varieties. For our case, we will start with the seed collection process.
The rose hips must be allowed to develop on the plant for at least four months for them to fully ripen. They have to be collected in autumn, cutting them off using the right garden tool. You can use cuticle scissors or tweezers to cut them off before cleaning them.
Rosehips ready for collecting
The ripened rose hip is then placed on a clean cutting board and cut in half to remove the seeds. Place the seeds in a clean container. Add some diluted bleach to kill off any bacteria and fungus spores. You can make the bleach by mixing drinking water with two teaspoons of household bleach. Stir the seeds well before rinsing them and using bottled water to remove all the bleach. To further clean and disinfect the seeds, put them in the container and add some hydrogen peroxide. The seeds can be soaked for up to 24 hours before rinsing them with clean water to clear all the hydrogen peroxide.
Collecting rose seeds
Soaking the seeds is a crucial step if your seeds will germinate properly and stay clear of any diseases. You MUST not mix the bleach with the hydrogen peroxide as this results in a chemical reaction. 3% peroxide for 24 hours is just fine. This is also a good time to perform the water float test. Remove all seeds that float as they might not be viable.
Starting the rose seeds
Before growing the roses from seed, the seeds have to undergo a period of stratification. This is a cold moist storage that gets the seeds ready for germination.
Chilling your seeds in a refrigerator for about six to ten weeks encourages them to germinate faster once planted. However, you must take care to avoid keeping them cold for long as they can germinate while still in the refrigerator. Place your seeds on a paper towel before moistening them. Use half purified water and half peroxide to prevent the growth of mould. You can then place them in a plastic zippered bag, mark the date and variety before placing in a refrigerator set at 1 to 3 degrees C. The paper towel should remain moist for the entire period. You can check occasionally to see if it needs remoistening. Make sure you don’t freeze the towel.
There are other ways to stratify the seeds like planting them in a tray of potting mix and refrigerating the entire tray for weeks. The tray is usually enclosed in a plastic bag to keep it moist.
Planting your seeds
When you think your seeds are ready for planting (6-10 weeks), remove the bag from the refrigerator if that was your stratification method. You will need shallow trays or small pots to plant your seeds. Whatever works between the trays and pots is fine as long they have good drainage. The ideal size of the trays or pots should be 3-4 inches deep.
You can use separate trays when planting seeds from different varieties of rose hips. You must follow your labeling all the way down from harvesting, treatment, and planting. The rose bush name and planting date are some of the details to indicate on your trays or pots.
Next fill your trays or pots with the potting soil. You can opt to use 50% sterile potting soil and 50% vermiculite, or half peat and half perlite. When the potting mix is ready in the trays or pots, this is the time to take off your seeds from the towel. Remember the seeds must not be removed from the plastic bag until they are ready to be planted. You lightly dust them before planting.
Place your seeds about ¼ inch into the soil and dust the surface again to prevent the damp off disease that kills seeds. Water them properly and place them outside in direct sunlight. If there is frost, it is advised you place your seeds under a tree or in a sheltered part of the patio to protect them. There is no need for grow lights.
Keep the soil pots or trays watered but not soggy. Do not let them dry up as this might affect the germination of your seeds.
Watch for germination
After about six weeks, the first two seed leaves will start to emerge before the true leaves can emerge. The seedling must have three to four true leaves before they can be ready for transplanting.
Planting your seedlings
Seedlings coming through the soil
When the seedlings are grown a few inches tall with at least three true leaves, they are ready to be transplanted. You can transplant them into a four-inch pot of your liking. You don’t have to plant all your seedlings but only the healthy ones. You can choose to monitor them on the tray and only transplant them when they have outgrown it.
You must monitor the seedlings as they grow in their new pots for colour, form, bush size, branching, and disease resistance. Roses with weak, unhealthy or unattractive flowers can be discarded. It will take your new seedlings at least three years before they reach maturity and develop into a big bush. However, the first flower can be seen after one or two years.
Rose floribunda ‘Blue For You’ & Rose ‘Easy Elegance – Yellow Brick’ Shrub Rose
Garden tools you will need to grow your rose seeds:
• Cotton buds
• Tweezers and cuticle scissors
• Clear plastic film canisters
• Labels for the paper and plastic bag
• Wax pencil or black permanent marker pen
Growing roses from seeds appears a pretty long process but one that is rewarding when you follow all the steps as indicated. If you are a great DIY fan, then this is a nice project for you to enjoy as you brighten your outdoor space with blooming roses.
Matthew Oliver, of RHS Hyde Hall, rows hollowed-out UK record-breaking pumpkin in daring stunt
Had aliens landed in East Anglia this morning, they might have been forgiven for thinking that they’d stumbled upon some very strange goings on. Windy weather had caused traffic chaos on the A12 and A14 in the Ipswich area and grown men and women were rowing hollowed out pumpkins on a lake in Essex.
Matthew Oliver, horticulturist at RHS Hyde Hall, Chelmsford, not content with having successfully grown the heaviest outdoor-grown pumpkin in the UK, decided to turn his record-breaker into a boat and to attempt to row it across the lake at the RHS Essex site today.
Matt Oliver and his Giant Pumpkin Boat!
Not only did Matthew launch his 1,333.8lb (95 stone or 605kg) pumpkin, he also managed to persuade 3 others to get aboard other giant pumpkins which were huge, but hadn’t grown quite big enough to break any records. Taking part were Steve Usher of Motorboat & Yachting magazine, dressed as a pirate, and 2 intrepid ladies who work at RHS Hyde Hall and who had daringly volunteered to (wo)man two of the potentially un-lake-worthy ‘boats’.
Matt Oliver scooping the pumpkin out & Matt and Paul Hansord scooping the bottom!
Having hollowed out the giant pumpkins, the valiant sailors set off, using oars to propel the cumbersome craft across the designated course. Prior to the event, Matthew had voiced some concerns about the ‘floatability’ of the giant pumpkins and how he might extract the waterlogged pumpkin hulls from the lake should they sink.
Matt and Paul Hansord from Thomspon & Morgan scooping out the bottom
However, his fears were unfounded and, whilst one pumpkin foundered at the start of the course, the other 3 made it safely over the finishing line.
Sailing on the lake in a pumpkin boat!
The seeds from Matthew’s record-breaking pumpkin will be available for purchase from Thompson & Morgan ready for next year’s growing season.
Anyone who would like to try their hand at growing a record-breaking giant pumpkin, can find Thompson & Morgan’s top tips at www.thompson-morgan.com/giantpumpkins
Matt Oliver wins again!
Pumpkin Facts & Figures
The pumpkin seed was bought for £1,250 at auction by Paul Hansord from Ipswich-based plant and seed merchant, Thompson & Morgan. The seed came from the then heaviest pumpkin in the world, which weighed 2,323 lb (166 stone) grown by Beni Meier from Switzerland in 2014.
The seed was entrusted to RHS horticulturist, Matthew Oliver back in April. Matthew then spent seven months nurturing the world’s most expensive pumpkin seed in the hope of breaking a new world record.
At the official weigh-in at Southampton on 8 October, the Pumpkin Commonwealth confirmed that Matthew’s pumpkin was the heaviest outdoor-grown pumpkin in the UK at 1,333.8 lbs
After the official weigh-in the pumpkin returned to Hyde Hall and took centre stage in a Halloween-themed pumpkin display.
The seeds will be harvested from the UK giant pumpkin with the intention that they will be available to purchase from Thompson & Morgan in time for next year’s growing season.
At the end of October we took a break from the garden and went to stay with our dear friend Sonja who lives in The National Forest (imagine small thatched ginger bread house in woodland clearing – no – small but perfectly formed terrace in Swadlincote). We left home on the Friday to summer’s last hurrah; two days later we returned to autumnal gloom. Knee deep in leaf litter everywhere; it’s all very well extolling the virtues of Autumn Colour (hushed voices, deep awe), if only it would stay on the trees! Gutters blocked, paths and lawns littered, shrub canopies choked, containers swamped. And then, do you let the leaves rot down to a natural mulch in the borders or do you clear them away so they don’t rot the crowns of your prized perennials? (Neat freak, clear them away, and then add somebody else’s mulch for £4.50 a bag.)
Acers on a spectacular scale – October 2016
Anyway, mercifully so far I have been able to sweep this year’s leaf litter up during the current dry spell. Woe betide it should rain, you take your life in your hands every time you step outside your front door! (Talking of Autumn Colour, some of the best I’ve seen has to be on the stretch of M1 motorway between Northampton and Leicester.) Autumn Colour apart, it’s the low light levels at dawn and dusk, casting their luminescent glow over the fiery landscape that gets me every year, just magical.
Coleus ‘Campfire’ & Hydrangea ‘Zorro’
In contrast to my androgynous gardening demeanour, Sonja, being a perfumery consultant, is a fragrant jewel! So for the first time in about 30 years I treated my feminine side to some perfume. And the point of the story is this: Wearing said perfume whilst sweeping up the dreaded Autumn Colour (and why not?) just smelled wrong! It masked the scents of the soil and natural fragrance of the flowers that I hadn’t even consciously registered before. How about that!
Now it truly is autumn in the garden
……Anyway, back in my gardening world, I was so excited about all the plants I was going to grow in my new propagator that I forgot one fundamental thing – to water them: Guess what, they all died! I am rubbish at cuttings, I really am, having always put it down to lazy horticultural practices. A brief knock to my confidence before taking another lot of cuttings (host plants looking a bit bald thereafter) whilst promising to learn by my mistakes. So we will see. However as insurance I have supplied a duplicate set (what is the collective for cuttings?) of salvia involucrata and confertifolia (sounds like a musical score) to the Chairman (Chair, Chairperson, whatever!) of our local Hort Soc, who is a veritable cuttings magician.
Whilst we are on the subject of my shortcomings, how many times do I have to lose my heucheras to vine weevil before I learn my lesson? Empty pots, add fresh compost, plant heucheras, feel noble. Simple! And why oh why do I put off splitting perennials for five years? A WW1 trenching tool was the only implement hefty enough to shift the clump of white phlox with a root ball the size of a wrecking ball! While we are at it, perhaps it would be a good idea to clean the greenhouse windows before the automatic lights stay on permanently. (The electricity bill has already doubled due to the heated propagators, and David’s paternal concern for the mice.)
flaming central bed & FUCHSIAfuchsiaberry
Really though I cannot believe we have reached November already. Whilst David is raring to go with his festive red berry lighting for the front garden, I am so behind with my jobs: so reluctant to lift the cannas, some of which have only just come into flower; have hastily stuffed & wrapped the tree fern (oven ready?) but must must must raise the containers onto pot feet, fleece the eucomis and bring the tender salvias under cover. T & M Crackerjack petunias and new Bidens are still flowering in the hanging baskets, half hardy annuals, tender perennials and my treasured ricinus are still in full swing but surely it’s only a matter of time before they are cut down by frost. I did succumb to tulips in the end, black Paul Scherer and white Triumphator (not sure, threw the packaging away, why do I do that every year?) planted in amongst the grasses out front.
Hanging baskets just keep on going!
I am so reluctant to get on with it all, as it will signify the end of this amazing horticultural year for us. But no doubt I will find something to write about in December but until then have a productive autumn and be careful not to slip on those dratted leaves.
The changing colour of leaves from the garden
Autumn can be the cruellest of seasons, lulling us into thinking it is still summer, with rays of mellow sunshine followed by a blast of the East wind, to remind us that winter is not far away! When the sun is shining it is tempting to leave the garden undisturbed and enjoy every moment, but plans need to be in place for the frosts which will certainly be coming at some point.
Although many plants are still looking remarkably good for the time of year, there are a growing number which have already fallen victim to the dropping temperature and shortening days. The leaves are changing colour on the trees too, and they are beginning to fall, especially if there is any degree of wind.
Preparing for winter, but some of the blooms haven’t caught up yet!
So, it is best to be prepared for the first frosts, to ensure that you are not taken unaware when it happens. Really precious, tender plants should be in the greenhouse already, although there is no need for additional heat until the night time temperatures fall further.
There is an excellent RHS app which can be downloaded free onto your phone or tablet, called ‘Grow Your Own’. It has a ‘Frost Alert’ which can be customised to your postcode, and will warn you of an impending frost, giving precious time to take further precautions.
Many garden plants are totally hardy, and can cheerfully cope with any amount of winter weather, whilst borderline hardy plants can be brought into a frost free greenhouse, conservatory or garage to overwinter. Failing that, they can be given a degree of protection outside, using horticultural fleece, or a mulch. Fleece sleeves, which slip over plants, are a quick and easy way to protect vulnerable plants. Fleece allows air to circulate whilst plastic would cause the plant to rot, due to moisture trapped inside. A mulch of compost or straw for example, can be used to protect the roots of frost tender plants.
Beautiful in bloom
Certain plants, such as tree ferns, have specific requirements and they need to have their crowns protected, by stuffing the base of the fronds with straw. Some succulents, such as certain agaves, can cope with reasonably low temperatures, but need to be kept dry to prevent root rot.
Dahlias and cannas can be left in the ground until the first frost, when their foliage will be blackened. They should then be dug up, and excess soil removed from around the tubers. These can then be stored in a dry frost free place until they can be brought into growth again next spring.
There are inevitably some sacrificial plants, usually annuals, as it is not always practical or possible to ‘save’ everything from the rigours of the winter, and, indeed, there are many plants which are better grown afresh every season.
It is possible to get the majority of tender plants safely through the winter, but this depends on a little planning and preparation.
You can find me at www.hoehoegrow.co.uk
Hoe hoe grow
See my biog for more about me! J.